Movie Review ~ 47 Meters Down: Uncaged

The Facts

Synopsis: Four teen girls diving in a ruined underwater city quickly learn they’ve entered the territory of the deadliest shark species in the claustrophobic labyrinth of submerged caves.

Stars: Sophie Nélisse, Corinine Foxx, John Corbett, Sistine Stallone, Brianne Tju, Nia Long, Davi Santos, Khylin Rhambo, Brec Bassinger

Director: Johannes Roberts

Rated: PG-13

Running Length: 90 minutes

TMMM Score: (7/10)

Review: Two years ago, a minor miracle happened when the newly formed (and creatively named) Entertainment Studios Motion Pictures bought a movie called In the Deep.  Though it had been released on DVD in the U.S. already, that didn’t bother the company who saw potential to capitalize on the lack of creature features swimming into theaters.  Renaming the film 47 Meters Down and giving it a prime June release date, the studio gambled big and reaped the rewards of their low budget movie that saw big box office returns.  At the time, I had heard a sequel was being planned but details were scarce on what was being sold as 48 Meters Down.  I’d all but forgotten about the sharky follow-up until a preview arrived shortly before 47 Meters Down: Uncaged was released.

Usually, these sequels can go seriously awry because of a lack of creative input.  The original did so well so why not just follow the same plot, add a few more deaths, and call it a day?  Thankfully, this sequel decides to go a different route and in many ways improves upon its predecessor by upping the ante not just with the script but for the filmmakers too.  Sure, there are more characters to deal with and an almost pathological need to scare the audience by jolting them with sneak attacks but the overall effect is a highly watchable and not quite implausible underwater thriller.  Where the first movie made good use of a limited setting and an ever-present feeling of claustrophobia, the sequel opens things up slightly but still finds a way to keep things contained in a small scareground.

Living with her dad (John Corbett, My Big Fat Greek Wedding 2) and his new wife (Nia Long, in this so briefly she doesn’t even appear in the opening credits) in Mexico, Mia (Sophie Nélisse, The Book Thief) is having trouble fitting into her new surroundings.  Her stepsister Sasha (Corinne Foxx) could care less about her, preferring to hang with her friends Alexa (Brianne Tju) and Nicole (Sistine Stallone).   With her dad busy researching a recently discovered submerged Mayan city, Mia is pawned off on Sasha and her friends for the day.  As this is a movie about a shark and being trapped underwater, I appreciated the filmmakers deemed it worthy to make the time on dry ground count, even if it’s a broken family set-up straight out of a soap opera and acted with about as much gusto.  Though their parents believe they are going on a boat tour, the stepsisters actually trek into the forest where Alexa shows them a hidden lagoon.

Now, it just so happens Alexa has gotten chummy (pardon the pun) with a research assistant to Mia’s dad and the lagoon sits on top of the entrance to the Mayan city.  Desperate for a little adventure, the girls decide to scuba down into the city and look through the first cave before returning to the surface.  Once they get in, though, a bad decision leads to them being stuck in the labyrinthine city…and they’re not alone.  How a Great White shark came to be in the city is anyone’s guess but over time the shark has acclimated to the dark waters and is blind, hunting only by its already heightened senses.  As the girls struggle to find another way out the shark blocks their advances and with their air supply running thin, will they reach the surface before they become shark bait?

Y’know, in some ways it would have been wonderful if the shark aspect of the 47 Meters Down: Uncaged could have been a twist that wasn’t revealed in any of the marketing materials.  The first appearance of the CGI shark is genuinely scary and though it often looks like a computer-generated creature there are enough solid moments to make you forgive the bad ones.  Already in a precarious situation being trapped with a limited air supply, the added complexity of evading a predator puts extra pressure on the women (and consistent tension on audiences) over the remaining 60 minutes and returning director Johannes Roberts uses every minute wisely.

Performances are, for the most part, admirable in the face of some silly dialogue and implausible technology used throughout the film.   At first, Nélisse was such a mumbling noodle lacking the charisma of a leading lady that I worried the movie would suffer from not being able to root for her but she comes around once she has to rise to the occasion and get out of the path of the shark.  Foxx and especially Tju are good supporting characters while Stallone (yes, she’s Sly’s daughter in her first role) unfortunately carries on the family name with lazily slurring most of her lines.  Even so, when you consider the vast majority of the movie was filmed underwater and considering what an undertaking that must have been, the end result overcomes any leaky spots in a slightly rusty bucket.

Roberts seems to treat the entire movie like a pot of boiling water he keeps turning the temperature up on.  Once the heat gets applied there’s no letting up…all the way until the credits roll.  There are several false endings that maybe go on too long but I was having such a good time splashing around in the water that I didn’t mind.  Like the first movie, this one would be fun to see in the theaters but would also work perfectly well on the small screen as a rainy day option.  It’s short running time goes by quickly and the creative set-up held my interest more than I thought it would.  If this is the way Roberts plots out a sequel, I’m all for giving him the opportunity to take us down for a third dive with the sharks in another few years.

Movie Review ~ The Book Thief


The Facts:

Synopsis: While subjected to the horrors of World War II Germany, young Liesel finds solace by stealing books and sharing them with others. Under the stairs in her home, a Jewish refugee is being sheltered by her adoptive parents.

Stars: Sophie Nélisse, Geoffrey Rush, Emily Watson, Nico Liersch

Director: Brian Percival

Rated: PG-13

Running Length: 131 minutes

TMMM Score: (6/10)

Review:  You know you’re in trouble when you discover in the first minutes of The Book Thief that Death will be your unseen narrator.  Having not read Markus Zusak’s 2005 novel of the same name, I can’t rightly tell you if Death’s narrative had a less cavalier attitude toward the horror of Nazi Germany during World War II.  It’s presented on screen though with an uncomfortably lighthearted approach that winds up sanitizing these dark times to fit into a more family-friendly-lets-have-a-discussion-afterward book club-y vibe.

Let’s backtrack a bit.  In bringing the bestseller to the screen, director Brian Percival (right at home in a period drama having coming from directing Downton Abbey) and screenwriter Michael Petroni kept the framework of Zusak’s novel intact but didn’t go any further with it.  What’s left is a perfectly fine drama that seems a natural fit to take in on a snowy day but one that tries at all costs to avoid addressing the inevitable outcome of most of the characters we’re introduced to.

Orphan Liesel (wide-eyed and remarkable newcomer Sophie Nélisse) comes to live with adoptive parents Hans (Geoffrey Rush, The Best Offer) and Rosa (Emily Watson, Anna Karenina) in a small German town.  Quiet, solemn, and unable to read the girl is warmly received by Hans but kept at a distance by Rosa who had expected to receive a boy that could help with the chores.  As family dramas go, the eventual bonding between the three happens like we know it will; Hans teaches Liesel to read and Rosa eventually comes around.  If it weren’t for those pesky Nazis burning books and killing an entire population of people the story may have been over.

Liesel and her next-door pal Rudy (another strong child performer, Nico Liersch) grow up side by side, dealing with bullies, personal squabbles, and the eventual realization that their lives will be forever changed when war breaks out.  There’s a lot of material to mine for dramatic purposes here and most of it is taken in stride by our able bodied leads and several strong supporting performances.

So why didn’t The Book Thief move me more?  John Williams’ Golden Globe nominated score is rich with emotion that sets the appropriate tone and the vibrant cinematography from Florian Ballhaus (Hope Springs) puts you right where you need to be to have your hankies ready for a tear-stained-face sorta finale.  Still, the eventual ending didn’t have much of an impact on me because the central danger, the omnipresent fear these people lived in was always kept on the periphery and not addressed.

I’d say to those interested in The Book Thief to focus on the performances rather than whatever the film fails to let materialize.  Nélisse and Liersch are charmers and give fuel to a cautious recommendation from this critic.

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